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Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

From:  Richard Stallman <rms-mXXj517/zsQ-AT-public.gmane.org>
To:  Henry Jensen <hjensen-Mmb7MZpHnFY-AT-public.gmane.org>
Subject:  Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze
Date:  Thu, 16 Dec 2010 18:32:09 -0500
Message-ID:  <E1PTNIv-0005eB-PL@fencepost.gnu.org>
Cc:  johns-mXXj517/zsQ-AT-public.gmane.org, gnu-linux-libre-qX2TKyscuCcdnm+yROfE0A-AT-public.gmane.org
Archive-link:  Article

It sounds like the new Debian version of Linux will recommend
specific nonfree firmware programs, which is undesirable.

I talked with Alexandre a few months ago, and we decided to change the
way Linux Libre deals with outside nonfree firmware.

The current practice is to change the code to fail instead of trying
to load any firmware.

The change is to obfuscate the names of the firmware files in the
Linux source code.  That way, if a user tracks down what firmware to
install and installs it under the name that the code wants, it will.
But Linux Libre will still not suggest installation of the nonfree
firmware file to handle a particular device.

In either case, it is possible to run the nonfree software.  Free
software has no way to stop users from doing something, since users an
change it.

Alexandre, how is progress on this?

-- 
Richard Stallman
President, Free Software Foundation
51 Franklin St
Boston MA 02110
USA
www.fsf.org, www.gnu.org




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Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 23, 2010 8:56 UTC (Thu) by gmaxwell (guest, #30048) [Link]

It might be "freedom through obscurity", but I actually like the approach and wish there were an easy way to opt-in to it in Fedora.

I'd _rather_ all my hardware had completely free non-blobby firmware. That might not always be realistic for all situations and all people yet, but at least it's a goal. Unfortunately since my system silently loads non-free-software firmwware that is packaged with the Linux kernel I can't even _tell_, and since I can't tell I can't do my part to make sure I'm exerting pressure towards creating the world that I'd like us all to have.

A kernel package that obfuscates the non-free firmware so that I have to undertake some manual intervention (or, otherwise, switch back to a less freedom concerned kernel) would do an adequate job of making sure that I'm acutely aware of any non-free-software components I happen to be running.

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 23, 2010 14:04 UTC (Thu) by alex (subscriber, #1355) [Link]

It might be possible to suggest a path to lkml that at least marked you had loaded non-free firmware. I doubt they would be interested in the rest of the code that makes rms happy.

Or an option to "use only Free" to test hardware before purchase?

Posted Dec 23, 2010 15:31 UTC (Thu) by dwheeler (guest, #1216) [Link]

How about some sort of boot-time "use only Free drivers", and stick that on a USB/CD/DVD boot system? That way, you could test hardware before purchasing it.

Or an option to "use only Free" to test hardware before purchase?

Posted Dec 24, 2010 13:24 UTC (Fri) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

Sounds a lot like the FSF Bootable Business Card.

Or an option to "use only Free" to test hardware before purchase?

Posted Dec 24, 2010 13:40 UTC (Fri) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

Membership card. Not Business card. Bah.

Anyhow, there is already a set of Linux distributions which only allow Free drivers: http://www.gnu.org/distros/free-distros.html. The cited email isn't even on the list of one of those. Rather, the article is a reply on a list on Savannah (http://lists.nongnu.org/mailman/listinfo/gnu-linux-libre) which is a "Workgroup for fully free GNU/Linux distributions". Perhaps the extra context will help other commentators realize what's going on.

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 23, 2010 18:27 UTC (Thu) by vonbrand (guest, #4458) [Link]

Why on earth isn't it enough to segregate the non-100%-free bits into a separate package, that you'd have to install concisiously?! You have to hack the kernel so it doesn't even contain the oh-so-dangerous filenames, lest some desperate person goes looking for the firmware to drive the otherwise brick machine? This is going beyond ridiculous. I'd assumed the first F in FSF meant "free", but freedom isn't someting you can force on people.

Please remember that without evil propietary, expensive, totally closed Unix systems there would never ever have been any GPL stuff nor FSF at all.

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 23, 2010 18:45 UTC (Thu) by jordanb (guest, #45668) [Link]

The problem is that without blobs getting loaded at the proper time, lots of hardware will (mysteriously, sometimes) fail to work at all. This could make the machine a brick, or at least disable major functionality.

I think a better approach would be to load the blobs, but print a diagnostic message with an easily-grepable phrase in it, something like "Loading proprietary blob xxx for device xxx". That way, you can see how free your hardware is, and if the non-free devices are ones you can replace or disable.

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 24, 2010 12:48 UTC (Fri) by drago01 (subscriber, #50715) [Link]

> That way, you can see how free your hardware is, and if the non-free devices are ones you can replace or disable.

This is not about drivers but firmware, the firmware does not become magically free only because it is stored on a different medium (some EEPROM, FLASH or whatever) compared to disk.

Why do people insists on "firmware that is stored on disk must be free" but don't care about the ones stored elsewhere?

This makes zero sense to me. Basically people are lying to themselves by using the "if it isn't on my harddisk it doesn't exist" logic.

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 24, 2010 13:06 UTC (Fri) by gmaxwell (guest, #30048) [Link]

>Why do people insist

For rather pragmatic reasons: If you have some firmware on your disk and you can't modify it, understand, and distribute the result then the _only_ thing preventing you from doing so is copyright/patent/regulatory related restrictions or intentionally manufactured obscurity.

If we accept the notion that people interested in advancing the cause of free software don't want to see copyright/patents used to reduce the freedom that you have to manipulate your system, then it follows that it may be sensible for them to avoid firmware blobs on disk since these are acute examples of this kind of restriction.

It would be a good thing from the perspective of having the freedom to control your own property if the internal design/specifications for the devices were open too, including any firmware embedded in rom. But there are additional genuine complicating factors getting in the way of executing freedom there (e.g. can't exactly update a rom without cracking the case), and generally we're a lot further away from openness existing in hardware today.

In order to get to a more open world it's practical to push on the parts which are easiest to change and most beneficial first. Thus pushing for the elimination of runtime loaded non-free firmware. Once all thats free, perhaps the next step is to push on updatable pre-loaded flash firmware, and so on.

Another reason is avoiding the slippery slope of losing freedom that we had before because it's now implemented on a co-processor powered by "firmware". It's no longer surprising to see a "GPU" with more gates and basic operations per second than the CPU. Should we not care about software freedom for the code running on this part of the computer so long as someone is calling it "firmware"?

So, returning your question— Why do people who don't share these concerns keep insisting that people interested in avoiding non-freely licensed firmware don't actually know what firmware is? What do you imply that I haven't thought out the reasons for these preferences?

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 24, 2010 13:56 UTC (Fri) by drago01 (subscriber, #50715) [Link]

> For rather pragmatic reasons

This can be used as an answer in pretty much any free vs. non free debate.
"Why do people want run that closed source driver?" -> "For pragmatic reasons they want to use their hardware" ...

> In order to get to a more open world it's practical to push on the parts which are easiest to change and most beneficial first.

The vendor can just decide to pay the couple of cents for embedding it in ROM without changing anything on the firmware license itself. Moving stuff around does not make it free.

> Why do people who don't share these concerns keep insisting that people interested in avoiding non-freely licensed firmware don't actually know what firmware is?

I didn't say that, my point was rather that whether firmware is free or not has nothing to do with the medium it is stored on.

> What do you imply that I haven't thought out the reasons for these preferences?

Because claims like "100% free system" are plain wrong (which is often used by people removing on disk firmware but ignoring the embedded ones).

Re: The "Free" Kernel In Debian Squeeze

Posted Dec 24, 2010 15:33 UTC (Fri) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

>> For rather pragmatic reasons

>This can be used as an answer in pretty much any free vs. non free debate.
>"Why do people want run that closed source driver?" -> "For pragmatic >reasons they want to use their hardware" ...

Yes, but the tendency I've seen in such discussions is for the non-Free proponents to brand the Free Software proponents "zealots" and "fundamentalists."

I suspect that the "pragmatic" comment was a preemptive assertion that Free Software proponents have reasons for their choices with a different set of value assessments, timeframes, and scopes than non-Free people. That's how I took it anyway.


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